Awareness of elder abuse in nursing homes has grown significantly over the past several years, as news coverage reveals horrifying incidents of abuse and neglect in residential facilities and state agencies and nonprofits ramp up efforts to identify risk factors and make elderly and disabled nursing home residents safer. There’s no question that the problem is a serious one, and growing as the population ages.
In 2020, about 15% of the population is aged 65 and older. About 6% is 85 or older. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), about 10% of these older Americans have experienced some type of abuse. And, U.S. Census data suggests that the percentage of the population that is post-retirement age will continue to grow rapidly over the next three decades.
What many may not realize is that nursing home abuse and neglect actually makes up a relatively small fraction of elder abuse in Florida and around the country. Abuse and neglect also happen in retirement communities, independent living facilities, at the hands of live-in or visiting caretakers, and in virtually any situation where a vulnerable elderly person may be inadequately protected. Awareness of the risks and the signs of abuse can help make your aging loved ones safer.
Types of Elder Abuse & Neglect
While the term “elder abuse” tends to bring physical abuse and neglect to mind, the elderly are actually vulnerable to many types of abuse. These include:
- Physical abuse, which is typically identified when a relative or other concerned person notices bruising, cuts, bedsores and other signs or the elderly person sustains unexplained injuries.
- Psychological abuse, which may be recognized when the elderly person becomes withdrawn, anxious or depressed, or experiences unexplained cognitive decline.
- Financial abuse, which is difficult to identify unless a trusted loved one is monitoring the elderly person’s finances, since those who engage in this type of abuse often siphon off property without the elderly person’s knowledge or manipulate the elder into believing he or she is freely giving gifts or spending the money in some other way.
- Sexual abuse, which many elderly people are too ashamed or confused to reveal to loved ones, and is most often identified through unexplained medical issues such as vaginal infections or bleeding.
- Neglect, which is typically classified separately from abuse but can be just as dangerous; warning signs may include wearing dirty clothes, weight loss, pressure sores and signs of untreated illness.
Of course, the different types of abuse often go hand-in-hand. For example, a caretaker who is stealing or extorting funds from an elderly person may be employing psychological abuse, threats of violence, or even withholding of food and other care to achieve their goals.
Protecting Your Loved One from Elder Abuse
Regardless of the setting, the elderly and disabled are most at risk when they are isolated. Isolation can create a sense of dependence on the abuser, leave the victim afraid to speak up, and even lead to confusion about exactly what is happening and who is responsible.
While geography and competing obligations can make it very difficult to check in on elderly relatives, regular contact is your best protection against elder abuse and neglect. Ideally, this will involve rotating family members, both because it will be easier to maintain a regular schedule with multiple people involved and because having just one point of contact for the elder can contribute to that sense of isolation.
No matter how facilities and caretakers have been vetted, don’t take anything for granted. Make sure you get time to speak with your elderly loved one alone, and be alert for signs of stress, cognitive changes, missing property, or unexplained marks. In addition to the signs listed above, the following may be an indication that your elderly relative is being abused or neglected:
- The elder has become unusually quiet or reluctant to talk with you
- Your loved one seems nervous or evasive when asked questions
- Unexplained weight loss
- Signs that restraints have been used, such as redness or bruising at the wrists
- Changes in demeanor when a particular person enters the room
- Missing medication or medication not being administered
Of course, this is only a partial list. You know your loved one best, and if you or other family members or friends feel something is amiss, don’t dismiss those concerns. Investigate.
Responding to Suspected Elder Abuse
If you suspect that your elderly relative is being abused, your first step should be to ensure that he or she is safe. That means:
- Ensuring that a trusted person is available to the elder, and that he or she is not alone with anyone who may be abusive or negligent
- Seeking a medical assessment from a trusted physician who does not have a potential conflict of interest, such as being an employee of the retirement community where the suspected abuse occurred
- Immediately begin seeking alternative arrangements for the elder to ensure safe and competent care moving forward
- Seeking legal assistance if required
An Elder Abuse & Nursing Home Neglect Attorney Can Help
When you learn that a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse, one of the most difficult challenges can be finding a safer alternative. Depending on the elderly person’s financial situation, options may be limited based on insurance coverage or government support. These obstacles can put a tremendous burden on the family, emotionally, practically, and financially.
Pursuing fair compensation for the abuse your loved one has suffered can open up those doors, providing the resources you need to create a better, safer environment for your aging family member.
At Harrell & Harrell, we are fully dedicated to helping people who have suffered serious setbacks secure the compensation they need to recover and rebuild. We have secured millions of dollars in compensation for victims of elder abuse and neglect.
An initial consultation with one of our experienced elder abuse attorneys is always free and there’s no obligation. And, if we accept your case, we won’t collect any fees unless and until we obtain a verdict or settlement for you. To learn more or schedule your free consultation, call 800-251-1111 or click in the lower right-hand corner of this page to chat.